Wednesday, September 14, 2011

An Accidental Masterpiece

Much preschooler art is of the "accidental" variety. Not that the process wasn't purposeful, but the end result, the product, is an accident of the scientific method of the universal child. And nevertheless there are times when that process produces a product of great beauty, sometimes even great truth. Every play-based preschool teacher knows what I'm talking about: those pieces that when you are left alone with them, or that you discover some days later, move and inspire you, or that are spot-on re-tellings of the story of its own creation. 

This blog is full of examples of "accidental" art: the art of process. Here's one, and another, and another, but everyone who has spent any time making art with children knows what I'm talking about. It's a piece you just can't throw away. We had many such pieces at the old place up on Phinney Ridge, artwork that had become permanent installations, but I've been pretty brutal in this move to our new home, sending most of it to the dumpster. (Or in the case of Luella's Painting, it has gone to her family; perhaps the greatest of all the things we've ever accidentally made together.)

We're starting anew here at the Center of the Universe

As I was preparing our new space for habitation these past few weeks, I dismantled some of the work of the summer program to clear the decks for the new school year, one part of which was the scarecrow. The scarecrow hadn't been the big success it had been the previous summer, largely because it didn't emerge from children with a vision, but rather as a project I suggested based upon the memory of previous brilliance.

Still, there had been that moment right at the end of making this summer's scarecrow, when the children did make it their own, much of which involved the styrofoam head I'd offered up for their use. Then they put that painted hat on her and we left her in the weather to become the strange beauty you see here.

Oh, we've loved these styrofoam heads. At one point we had eight of them; their history is a story I know, but will not tell. We entered summer with four of them remaining, one of which we still own but in the form of this artwork.

I think this one is destined to live with us, at least for awhile. I don't have her in the classroom during the first week of school due to the fact that there is something slightly disturbing about her (perhaps it's the beer bottle cap eyes) but I intend to find a permanent place for her because she's also quite beautiful. The purplish paint has remained on her cheeks and neck in marble-izing swirls, but as you get closer you find it's cracked, giving her the appearance of a kind of reptile shedding an old skin.

This is a kind of art that acts as evidence, I think, a documentation of a process that clicked on all cylinders, one during which very young children, perhaps by accident, but with purpose, create a masterpiece. We might not always create a masterpiece, but that's to be expected, even the greatest artists make some average art between their works of genius. 

It is a masterpiece, our masterpiece, the existence of which proves to me the genius of a play-based curriculum.

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Birdie said...

How interesting! She reminds me of Neil Gaiman's Coraline...the mother with the button eyes.

I recently discovered your blog and as a mom to an almost-4-year-old, its wonderful and inspiring! Thank you!

The Knitty Gritty Homestead said...

We cut loose on HUGE paper with lots of paint wonderful! I have some funny stories of a beloved styrofoam head, too...makes me smile to think of her history! You couldn't have created this beauty if you'd been setting out to do it...her appeal is haphazard and therefore wonderful!

Kathy Engel said...

Our class, decided on a representation of the giant Abiyoyo. We were enthralled by the size along with the "long nails cuz he didn't cut them". It was truly horribly beautiful. He accompanied us through the year and graduated and obviously went on to "the big school" along with his close personal friends.